[env-trinity] Cynthia Koehler SF Chron 8 18 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Aug 19 15:02:20 PDT 2010

Science finds exports are harming delta

S.F. Chronicle-8/18/10

By Cynthia Koehler



For decades, efforts to fix the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta were
stymied by arguments over whether we need to allow more freshwater to flow
through the estuary to alleviate an ecological crisis. 


The State Water Resources Control Board has now effectively ended this
debate. Recently, the board released a report concluding that the amount of
water being taken from the delta - about 50 percent of what would naturally
flow through it - isn't leaving enough for fish like Chinook salmon. The
board found substantially greater flows are needed to preserve the health of
the delta estuary - about 75 percent of natural or "unimpaired" flows for
about half of the year.


When the Legislature called for this report, it directed the board to make
flow determinations based on the best available science. The report is a
comprehensive review of the health and flow needs of the largest and most
important estuary on the West Coast. 


The downward spiral of salmon fisheries and other resources of the delta is
well known, but until this report was released, the debate about whether
flows were partly responsible was unresolved. The water board has performed
a critical public service in moving the debate to the next level. 


Other factors such as restoration of habitat, toxic discharges and invasive
species also affect the health of the estuary and must be addressed. But one
thing is now beyond question: The science confirms that we have fallen out
of balance in managing the delta, and future solutions can no longer
sidestep the key issue of freshwater flows. Restoring those flows is not the
only answer to the estuary's woes, but there is no answer at all without


The board's work, while important, is not the end of the story. Any
long-term solution must provide reliable water supplies for people while
protecting salmon and other native fish and the ecological health of the
delta. But any balancing of competing interests requires first knowing what
both interests need. Water users' demands have long been made clear. 


The board has now provided the other bookend: the flow needs of the
ecosystem. Ahead of us lies the hard work of reconciling what the science
tells us about the estuary's needs with how we manage our water supplies. 


Critics will insist that the board's work can be dismissed because the
science is "uncertain." This is a red herring. Public policy is regularly
made based on science and information that is not 100 percent certain.
Science cannot say with complete certainty that tobacco smoke causes cancer,
but that hasn't stopped government authorities from taking action. 


We now have overwhelming scientific evidence showing that better water flows
are essential to restoring the health of the bay-delta. We know for certain
that the estuary is dying, that salmon are near extinction and that
fishermen are in deep distress. 


Fortunately, there are ways to balance the water needs of fish, farms and
families. Thanks to the water board, we now have the information we need to
start bringing balance back to the system.# 


Cynthia Koehler is a senior attorney and California water legislative
director of Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco.





Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax

415 519 4810 mobile

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

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